This story first appeared on The Muse, a web destination with exciting job opportunities and expert career advice. 

Wouldn't it be great to have the answer to success? One word or even one sentence that could immediately propel you straight to the top? Sadly, we all know that this belief is just that--a belief. But when asked what the single most important factor in their success through life was, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett both had the same single-word reply: Focus.

But that doesn't mean exactly what you think it does.

As New York Times bestselling author Greg McKeown explains in his recent LinkedIn article: "When people speak of focus they usually mean having a single goal. It is a static thing, a thing you have." Focus, in his words, becomes viewed as a noun.

On one hand, this works great because it gives you a clear, obvious objective to pursue, be it getting a raise, starting a company, or curing cancer. But if you're putting all of your attentions on that one thing, you may not see other opportunities that come your way.

That's why the ability to focus--as a verb--is just as important as having a focus. Using a fantastic example, McKeown explains: "Imagine if the moment you woke up this morning your eyes focused one time and then never adjusted again. You would be out of focus all day. Our eyes produce clarity through a perpetual process of adjustment." In other words, to use focus as a path to success, you have to be constantly adjusting to what's in front of you.

The solution? Bring the two together and concentrate on developing them simultaneously.

The author offers a few main ways to do this: by asking the right questions, by finding time to escape, and by really treating your time as valuable. Here's a recap of his advice--plus some questions to ask yourself about how you can focus better.

1. Ask the Right Questions

Focusing means viewing your career on a larger landscape than just your to-do list or your current position and company. To do this, it helps to set aside time to regularly think ahead--to focus not just on where you are now, but on where you'd like to be in the future.

2. Find Time to Escape

Before you dismiss this step and say, "but I'm too busy," consider this: Even Bill Gates makes time in his schedule to step away from the noise and clutter of day-to-day life and focus on the bigger picture. “Twice a year, during the busiest and most frenetic time in the company's history, he still created time and space to seclude himself for a week and do nothing but read articles (his record is 112) and books, study technology, and think about the bigger picture," McKeown writes. "Whether you can invest two hours a day, two weeks a year, or even just five minutes every morning, it is important to make space to escape in your busy life."

Ask Yourself

  • Is it more beneficial to sit in on this meeting or spend an hour concentrating on personal writing?
  • What article can I read that will spark my excitement about something new and interesting going on in my industry?
  • When was the last time I took a moment out of the day to think about my goals?

3. Treat Your Time as Valuable

Perhaps the largest part of focusing is making sure that your schedule allows you to do so. Remind yourself that your time is extremely valuable and that you only have a certain amount of hours in each day to get things done--then find ways to step away from nonessential time-sucks that hold you back from your bigger goals. 

Ask Yourself

  • Should I be giving my personal number out to everyone?
  • How often am I checking my email, and is that distracting me from real tasks?
  • How much time out of every day should I commit to spending in meetings?
  • Am I generally happy with how I’m spending my time?

These steps can help make sure your career is going exactly where you want it to go. If you find you've been running low on inspiration or commitment, take some time to really find your focus. Success is bound to follow.

Published on: Jul 29, 2014